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Scottish Education - Schools and University
Chapter IV - First Period to 1560. Glasgow University


WHEN the University of St Andrews had been forty years in existence, and the thirst for education was still unslaked, the distance of that little city from the rest of Scotland was felt to be an inconvenience requiring remedy. The epoch moreover was in several respects very favourable for the founding of universities. The schism in the Romish Church at the end of the 14th century led to a large increase in the number of universities on the Continent. Between the Pope in Avignon and the Pope in Rome there was the keenest rivalry. In their anxiety to thwart each others' schemes and make good their claim to superiority in the pontificate, both lent a willing ear to petitions from whatever quarter they came, and were ready to grant Bulls for the foundation of institutions, on which they felt the success of the Church largely depended. The University of Paris supported the Pope in Avignon, in which they were followed by Scotland, as already mentioned, while England gave its support to the Pope in Rome. Scottish students accordingly were received at the English universities with scant courtesy. Further it is not matter for regret or reproach, that the Bishop of Glasgow was unwilling that his diocese should lag behind that of St Andrews, just as half a century later Bishop Elphinstone was actuated by a similar not ignoble ambition to have a university in his diocese of Aberdeen.

In 1450, the papal schism having ceased, James II at Bishop Turnbull's suggestion presented to Nicholas V, himself a great scholar and zealous for education, a petition for the founding of a second university in Glasgow, "where the air was salubrious and provisions were plentiful," and which Major in his History describes as a "small but beautiful city situated on a fine river not yet deepened by art so as to be a channel of commerce." The petition was at once granted, giving what could come only from Papal authority, the privilege of conferring degrees and liberty to teach all over the world [Munimenta, I, p. 3.]. In 1453 the King gave a charter granting additional privileges exempting the authorities from the payment of taxes. The foundation was after the model of Bologna, but it imitated to a large extent the customs of Louvain - then and still a famous university-perhaps because John Lichton its Rector was a Scotsman. The Bull did not specify Bologna as a model for Glasgow. It only gave to the authorities as a body corporate the same privileges and the same ecclesiastical supervision by the Chancellor as that famous Italian university had. Bologna was especially a school of law-civil and canon. In this Glasgow did not imitate Bologna to any great extent. There was little teaching in the higher Faculties, in which there were only occasional lectures, attendance on which was not compulsory. In the great relative prominence secured, and to the present day retained, by the Faculty of Arts in Glasgow the example of Louvain and other continental universities was followed.

The Pope wished Glasgow to have a studium generale which should " flourish in theology, canon and civil law, and in any other lawful Faculty." A most promising start was made. Bachelors were presented for graduation in the very first year after the foundation. Lectures in other Faculties were given, but the Faculty of Arts was the only one which had a definite shape and constitution. It elected a Dean, made laws for its government, and acquired property in which the university as a body had no share. It established a Paedagogium and used the funds of the Faculty for the upkeep of the building. For a considerable time the university as a body acquired no property. "There might be," says Mr Innes, "some danger of the Faculty of Arts absorbing the University."

The fact that candidates for graduation presented themselves in the first year of its existence is noteworthy, and shows that the foundation of the university was in response to a popular demand. These candidates must have had training in scholastic philosophy somewhere. One does not expect a degree-giving institution to spring thus suddenly into existence and full fruition. It may be taken as a corroboration of a sentence already quoted from Mr Mullinger that "universities in the earlier times had not infrequently a vigorous virtual existence long before they obtained legal recognition."

Glasgow followed the example of Bologna in giving to the supposts assembled in council the power of government, and in this respect differed from St Andrews and Aberdeen, where the supposts did not govern directly, but through representatives whom they had elected. As Glasgow, like St Andrews, had at first no endowment from which teachers could be paid, the Pope issued a Bull authorising all the teaching staff who were beneficed clergymen to reside in the university for ten years or even longer if they continued lecturing, and to enjoy the emoluments of their benefices, provided they arranged for the work of their cures being properly attended to. The same was the case in Aberdeen. In Glasgow some lectures were given in theology and law-canon and civil-but the backbone of the teaching was philosophy and humanity both of which were regularly taught.

Few words have thrown off such a number of correlatives with widely different meanings as the Latin word humanus, the root-meaning of which is `peculiar to a human being.' In the middle ages an education which had Latin, and, later on, Latin combined with Greek for its basis, was regarded as the best source of what ought to be the proper aim of every man, viz. culture, and hence in Scotland the University Chair from which Latin was taught was called the Chair of Humanity. It is difficult to explain why Greek did not share in the name, unless it be that Latin had long the precedence of Greek in point of time as a branch of education.

Another word that has changed its meaning in its passing from the middle ages to the present day is bursar, which formerly meant a pupil who had gained in some way by favour or examination a money-prize-a bursa, or purse, a meaning which it still has. But a different signification has been added to it. The bursar of a college is he who has charge of its financial matters.

Regent again was the official title of the teacher to whose care the student was handed over for instruction and guidance in every branch of the curriculum. This custom was observed longer in some universities than in others, but it was nowhere permanent, and hence in many cases Regent and Professor were interchangeable titles.

At first and for a number of years the university had no building set apart for teaching purposes. Parts of the cathedral and probably of other churches were so used. The first gift recorded is that of a tenement in the High Street, and four acres of land on the Dowhill stretching to the Molendinar Burn. This tenement occupied the site where subsequently the old college stood, till the splendid building on Gilmorehill was erected in 1869. The donor was Sir Gavin Hamilton who in 1455 granted a charter of the tenement and land to the Prior and Convent of the Preaching Friars of Glasgow [Munimenta, I, p. 9.]. With Scottish caution, dictated possibly by doubts as to the future success of the university (not without foundation as it turned out) he stipulated in the charter that his heirs and assigns should have full right of retaking the same into their own proper possession. His relative Lord Hamilton in 1460 made the gift absolute, and thenceforth it was put to university uses, and called a Paedagogium.

The burgh records of Glasgow do not go further back than 1573.

The Munimenta of the university have a threefold classification.

(1) Deeds of erection, privileges, and endowments.
(2) Statutes and internal discipline of the university.
(3) Lists of members.

These documents give evidence of systematic and careful registration.

Vol. I of the Munimenta deals with privileges and property.

From 1451 to 1563 the entries (40 in number) are recorded with the greatest care and precision, and deal with gifts, annexation of benefices, exemption from taxation, rent and repairs of the Paedagogium, the Chancellor's claim to the right of appointment of a master to the grammar school, and his prohibition of private schools without his permission. There is a steady contribution of gifts, of lands, tenements and money to the Faculty of Arts, and nothing to indicate decay or deterioration of the institution, till the letter under the Privy Seal by Mary Queen of Scots of date 1563 sets forth its ruinous condition.

Vol. II gives an account of the statutes and internal discipline of the university.

The example of foreign universities is followed. Students are arranged in four 'nations.' Glottiana, representing Clydesdale. Loudoniana, the rest of Scotland (excepting the south and west), England and later the Colonies. Rothesaiana, the west and south of Scotland and Ireland, and Albania, foreigners.

Each nation elected a procurator to represent it in the election of the Rector who held office for a year, but could be, and often was, re-elected for several years. Vol. II contains the lists and names of those incorporated with the university for each year from 1451, when it was founded, up to the time of the Reformation. The falling off in the number of incorporated members is very striking. Commencing at its foundation with 60, within 30 years the number was reduced to 2. To this a variety of circumstances contributed. The greater prestige of foreign universities, the comparatively small area from which students could be supplied, the poverty of the country -approaching almost to a state of famine - distraction arising from war with England, a nobility disaffected owing to the King's appointment of low favourites to positions for which they were not qualified - all these were hostile to university success. But probably the most baneful influence was a badly governed Church, and a declension in the morals of the clergy on whose support the university mainly depended.

Under the head of Annals of the University we have little more than records of the names and election of a succession of Rectors, the dress they should wear when going through the city on feast days, and the number of attendants who should accompany them, when a white wooden rod should be carried before them, when a silver one, fees, honoraria to masters, calendar of feasts &c., but scarcely any reference to the course of study to be pursued. In 1482, 1509 and 1522 three several Rectors indicate dissatisfaction with the state of matters; one proposing a renewal of the statutes and a vigilant maintenance of judicial jurisdiction on the part of the university, the calling up of unpaid rents, and the examination of certain expenses that require to be looked into. Another proposes to have a general congregation to deal with five important matters which need consideration. A third proposes that bachelors should be compelled to take the master's degree within a fixed time, and that the students' rooms should be visited nightly. These are indications of a feeling on the part of the authorities that bracing up in several directions was necessary.

The Annals of the Faculty of Arts have a register apart from those of the university. As already stated, the former alone had a constitution and had taken definite shape. The names of those who took degrees were recorded in its register and not in that of the university. There seems therefore ground for Mr Innes's remark that there was some danger of the Faculty of Arts absorbing the university, or becoming an independent body.

The registration generally leaves nothing to be desired in respect of fulness and precision, and gives a faithful record of the doings of the Faculty-the names of those admitted to degrees, post rigorosum examen, and of the examiners, the appointment of successive deans, dress of students, dues for graduation, audit of accounts, debts incurred owing to famine, war, and pestilence, and references to books to be read. But in 1460 symptoms of decadence begin to appear. One master is charged with retaining books not his own, another with using contumelious language. Laxity in discipline and work is a subject of complaint in 1468. Regents report that no students have gone through the course of study necessary for the degree of bachelor. In I476 it is declared indispensable that a candidate for the degree of master should have read all the prescribed books. Several have failed to do so. In 1482 some have not taken their master's degree at the proper time on account of the scarcity and dearness of provisions. Masters are fined for non-attendance at congregations. Alexander Erskyne, son of Lord Erskyne, took

the degree of bachelor with great magnificence and expense (qui et gloriosissimum actum celebravit et solvit ingentes expensas). It does not appear whether this is recorded for blame or approval. A student not qualified according to the statutes is admitted to his trials for the master's degree at the entreaty of certain masters. No master in future is to prefer such a request on pain of a fine. Some masters fail to lecture as required by the statutes, others disregard the admonition of the Dean. In 1501 owing to the plague there was no lecture during most of the year. Between 1509 and 1535 there is no entry in the Munimenta. All this affords clear evidence of the relaxed efforts of a moribund institution. This is probably the stage in its history on which Mr Innes remarks "This was the state of things when we lose sight of the university and its members in the storm that preceded the Reformation. Even before that time the university seems to have fallen into decay. The words of the Queen's letter in 1563 are scarcely to be accounted for by any sudden or recent calamity. 'Forsamekil as within the citie of Glasgow ane college and universitie was devisit to be had quhairin the youthe mycht be brocht up in letres and knawlege, the commoune welth servit, and verteu incressit-of the quhilk college ane parte of the sculis and chalmeris being bigeit, the rest thereof, alsweill duellings as provisioune for the pouir bursouris and maisteris to teche ceissit, sua that the samyn apperit rather to be the decay of ane universitie nor ony wyse to be recknit ane establisst foundatioun [Preface to Munimenta, p. xiv.]."'

Ten years after this the building of the Paedagogium is said to be ruinous, and discipline extinct. Mr Innes continues "But though thus fallen the studium generale still kept up the skeleton of its constitution. The very last transactions recorded before the Reformation show us the University met in full convocation in the Chapter-House of the Cathedral, on its statutory day of the feast of St Crispin and Crispinian - its four nations electing their `intrants' or procurators-the four intrants electing the Rector of the university, and his four deputies, the promotor or procurator and bursar-and members admitted to the university as a defined and distinct body, and according to the ancient constitution and practice: while the Faculty of Arts held its congregation in the crypt, at the altar of St Nicholas, and there elected their Dean and their examinators, and recorded the 'proceeding' of the year's students-now sadly reduced in numbers-for their degrees [Preface to Munimenta, p. xv.]." There were only three bachelors.

It seems warrantable to infer from this that the Faculty of Arts had little in common with the rest of the university. The former seems to have been the only part of the institution that acquired property, and to have used it solely for its own purposes. The relation in which they stood to each other is not clear. While the property acquired belonged to the Faculty of Arts and was employed, among other purposes, for the maintenance and repairs of the Paedagogium, we find in the annals of the university a suggestion that the dilapidated condition of the law schools should be put right, that unpaid rents should be recovered, and certain expenses looked into, thus indicating an interest in transactions more strictly within the province of the Faculty of Arts. We find also that Elphinstone, afterwards Bishop of Aberdeen, was Dean of the Faculty of Arts in 1471 and Rector of the university in 1474, which shows some connection between the two portions of the institution. It is recorded in the annals of the Faculty of Arts that a regent, Walter Bunche, was in 1478 dismissed for incompetence, and in the annals of the university there is an entry in 1490 bearing that the regents in the Faculty of Arts are to be compelled to carry out the provisions of the foundations of their chaplainries. It is probable that the university as a body took the initiative in the first as it did in the second case, but the independent action of the Faculty of Arts in other respects makes it difficult to determine in what respect and to what extent it was subordinate to the university as a body.

It cannot be claimed for Glasgow University that for the first hundred years of its existence it had a successful career. In the 15th century the Faculty of Arts was eminently flourishing. A brave show was made on their feast days by processions of masters, graduates and students through the streets carrying flowers before adjourning to the banquet in their college, the Faculties of Theology and Law being unrepresented. Before long there was evidence of decay. The absence of endowments sufficient to secure the regular services of a body of competent teachers and the indifference of a succession of Bishops and Chancellors, whose leanings were ecclesiastical rather than academic, produced a relaxation in the efforts of men of high ability and literary eminence who, in other circumstances, could have done much to maintain the reputation and promote the success of the university. She could however point to some alumni of great distinction - Elphinstone, Knox, Spottiswood, and Cardinal Beaton, and to at least one eminent teacher-John Major the historian, and one literary man of note, Robert Henryson. Its marvellously improved condition under the vigorous superintendence of Andrew Melville will be dealt with in the second branch of our subject.


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